One of the most intriguing majors offered at select music programs, scoring for film and television has become an integral part of many music programs throughout the entire world.
This is with good reason.
Film and television composition, as well as writing music for video games, has become one of the best avenues for creating a great revenue stream for composers. Whether you are watching a television show, a commercial advertisement, or a new motion picture, you are likely also listening to the dedicated work of a paid commercial music composer.
With so many places in commercial music for composers, that to me sounds like a serious incredible economic opportunity for the aspiring music creator, doesn’t it?
When making this particular list, we looked at what the faculty at each school has accomplished in the film and television scoring markets, whether the students are taught a curriculum that reflects the current requirements of succeeding in the commercial music industry, what recent alumni have done with their film degrees, what kinds of opportunities are available for collaboration with student filmmakers, and more.
Before we get to this list, there are some things to consider when pursuing a film scoring degree.
Almost all programs for film scoring in the US and abroad are at the Master’s degree level only. Two exceptions do exist though, the Berklee College of Music in Boston as well as the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles, which offer undergraduate degrees. NYU’s undergraduate composition program does allow its students to pursue a film music concentration in the degree, however it is not a “film music degree.”
Unless you are very serious about pursuing film scoring at the Bachelor’s degree level, I would recommend you first get a degree in music composition from a reputable music school, then go ahead and a get a film and television scoring degree at the Master’s level.
Here are some of our recommendations for the top programs in traditional music composition.
Also, many schools that do teach classes in scoring for visual media are not included in this list. While many schools have fine programs in arts technology that are integrated into a visual media portion, this list is focused solely on schools that provide students with degrees in a film-focused or film-intensive curriculum.
Many of the lists on this website deal with entirely US-based schools. In this particular list, we branch out into international colleges as well.
So without further ado, here are the top 10 colleges for film and television scoring in the entire world.
10. Musicians Institute – Los Angeles, CA
One of only two colleges in the entire United States to offer a film scoring degree at the Bachelor’s Degree level (the other being the Berklee College of Music), the Musicians Institute is a program that trains its students for the real world of film composition. Graduates of this department consistently land jobs in the commercial music field as composers, arrangers, producers, MIDI editors, and more.
The curriculum in MI’s film scoring program is in-depth, with students taking many classes in contemporary arrangement, film scoring, theory, composition, business, history, and even Apple’s Logic Pro program, which is industry standard software in the film, television, and video game music business.
Along with USC, UCLA, and the LA Film School, the Musician’s Institute is located in one of the premiere commercial music hubs of the entire world, making the location of this school ideal for any young musician looking to pursue film scoring at a serious level.
Being in LA, students have the opportunity to extend outside of collaborations at MI and seek out filmmakers of varying professional status for collaborations that will ultimately enrich their educations as commercial music composers.
9. National Film and Television School – Beaconsfield, UK
The Composing for Film & Television program is among the most prestigious schools for film composition in the entire world. The head of the program, musician Dean Humphreys, has worked with Ridley Scott, Franco Zeffirelli, and Roman Polanski, among many other internationally recognized directors.
Alumni of the program include many of the world’s most well-known film composers, including Dario Marianelli, who won an Oscar for his score to the film Atonement. Marianelli has also won a Golden Globe and has previously been nominated for a BAFTA. Other alumni include composer Rob Lane, who composed the score to the HBO hit miniseries John Adams.
Students of the program learn modern midi programming techniques that prepare them for the real world of the film composition industry as well as skills in traditional composition and orchestration. Students also are provided unique opportunities to work alongside filmmakers and future film industry workers.
Recently, the Hollywood Reporter named this college as the very best international college for studies in the filmmaking industry. The Composing for Film & Television Program is available only at the Master’s Level.
8. Royal College of Music – London, UK
One of the premiere schools for film and television scoring, the Royal College of Music’s “Composition for Screen” program is among the world’s finest programs for aspiring commercial music composers.
Some recent guests to the program have included several of the world’s most famous film composers, including Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, The Dark Knight), Rachel Portman (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules), Michael Giacchino (Up, Cars) and Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings, Hugo).
Faculty at the college consist of many of the leading UK commercial music composers, including Area Leader Vasco Haxel, who has written music for award-winning short films, as well as Enrica Sciandrone, who has won several awards for her work in visual media composition.
Students at the college are exposed to an exceptionally well-rounded curriculum that prepares them for the real world of commercial music. Students have access to the Royal College of Music studio, which is a certified commercial recording facility in England.
The location of the school could not be beat, as London is one of the most creative cities in the world, widely considered a mecca of video advertising production as well as a hotspot for European filmmaking. This program, available at the Master’s level only, is possibly the finest of its kind in all of Great Britain.
7. Columbia College – Chicago, IL
The Music Composition for the Screen MFA at Columbia College in Chicago is among the most prestigious in the world. Some of their students have gone on to extraordinary careers in the film industry, with one alum producing music to the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films.
The program is a four semester Master’s degree program, and is widely considered an excellent starting point into the ferociously competitive field of film scoring.
The faculty for film composition at Columbia College is outstanding – one of the faculty members, Gary Chang, has composed music in feature films for a number of top directors, including Jonathan Demme, John Hughes, and John Frankenheimer.
Outside of the film scoring department, the college also boasts one of the premiere visual media departments in the country, known as the Cinema Art + Science program. This program has produced winners of Oscar, Emmy, and Spirit awards. One of the best benefits about this school having this prestigious department is the unparalleled opportunity for collaboration among some of the most diversely talented aspiring filmmakers and composers in the country.
6. University of California – Los Angeles, CA
At UCLA, the Film Scoring certificate, offered through UCLA’s Extension program, is widely considered a top program for visual media composition. This program actually does not require an admissions decision – it is available to students via open enrollment. That said, college-level experience in music or composition is highly, highly recommended.
The faculty for UCLA’s Extension program is very strong. Charles Bernstein, an Emmy-award winning composer who has scored legendary blockbusters such as Nightmare on Elm Street, After Innocence, and the television adaptation of Sea Wolf, teaches scores of students that later find employment in the film industry.
Located in the premiere epicenter for film production in the US, Los Angeles is home to a number top film composers, producers, editors, and studios in the entire world.
5. Pulse College – Dublin, Ireland
The lists I make on this website typically deal with only U.S. based programs, however this particular list branches out into international programs. Pulse College, an exceptional one-year intensive Master’s film program based in Dublin, Ireland, boasts some of the most extraordinarily accomplished faculty in the world in any music department focusing on commercial music.
Faculty members include Andy Hill, who was the former Vice President of Music for Walt Disney Pictures, Daniel Carlin, an Emmy-award winning music editor who has worked on over 100 film and television productions, and Conrad Pope, who helped orchestrate the music to the newer Star Wars trilogy. Other faculty members have been nominated for the Golden Globe award, written music for high-profile video games including Bioshock, and scored movies for blockbuster films.
The school also, to my knowledge, has Christopher Young on the faculty, who is a prominent faculty member at USC Thornton’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program (USC is also on this list).
The college’s one-year intensive curriculum, running from September to August, prepares students to work in the professional field as composers, music editors, orchestrators, music supervisors, and music producers. The curriculum offers classes in overall musical artistry, current technology used by industry professionals, and music business.
One of the best colleges in the world for film scoring, Pulse College should be a serious choice for any musician looking into colleges for film scoring.
4. Seattle Film Institute’s Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program – Seattle, WA
The Seattle Film Institute is the largest filmmaking school in the Northwest region of the US; as one of the most well-known filmmaking schools in the world, the institute hosts an excellent one-year Master’s degree in film scoring. An intensive curriculum, this is a premiere school that teaches students the most important parts of being a film composer in 2015, which is film history, artistry, and current technology.
What many prospective and budding young film composers may not realize is that most film scores produced today are actually created with digital libraries of acoustic instrument samples as well as synthesizers. Although not every modern film score is like that, the majority produced today are made almost completely digitally.
Some key software products the students learn at this institute include Finale, Logic, Pro-Tools, Sibelius, and Digital Performer, all modern programs that are regularly used in the music production and commercial music industries.
Additionally, students are given nine opportunities to record their music with live session musicians in a professional studio setting.
I am especially fond of this program because their goal is so clearly laid out – in just one year, the school places students into a pressure cooker of intense learning resulting in a professional demo reel that can be used to obtain future paid commercial opportunities.
The principal instructor of this program is Hummie Mann, an Emmy-award film music composer who was named by Variety Magazine in 2010 as one of the 10 Leaders in Learning. Hummie has an extraordinary track record as a teacher, frequently producing students who ascend the ranks of the film music industry.
Schools that focus on the value and future of their music students are compelling options, and this program most certainly does exactly that.
3. Berklee College of Music – Boston, MA
Widely considered to be among the three best film scoring programs in the US, along with the next two on this list, the Berklee College of Music has a distinguished history of graduating composers that become exceptionally accomplished as film & television scorers, music editors, music arrangers, and more.
Led by department chair George Clinton, who has gained success scoring the music to over 100 films including Austin Powers, the faculty is second-to-none in terms of accomplishment in the commercial music industry. Other faculty members include Ben Houge, a notable video game music composer, Alison Plante, a composer who has written extensively for television commercials, and Sheldon Mirowitz, who has written scores for Miramax and HBO Films productions.
The approach to teaching film scoring students at the Berklee College of Music is one of collaboration. Assistant Chair of the Film Scoring department at Berklee relays to us this philosophy, according to her biography on the Berklee website:
“Knowing how to collaborate is so important. Music for media—whether it’s games, interactive media, film, or television—doesn’t stand alone; it works with the other elements and that means that you’re working with other people. We promote collaboration in a lot of classes in our department and in extracurricular activities, and we’re continuing to broaden the possibilities for collaboration in the curriculum.”
One of only two schools to offer an undergraduate film scoring degree in the entire United States, the Berklee College of Music is an excellent choice for any aspiring film composer.
2. New York University – New York, NY
One of the best film scoring programs in the entire world, New York University’s film scoring faculty boasts a number of distinguished people exceptionally successful in the commercial music industry, including Composer-In-Residence Ira Newborn, who scored many classic films of the 80s and 90s including Sixteen Candles as well as Ace Ventura Pet Detective.
NYU has a competitive distinction that makes it stand out above the rest of the crowd, which is the Maurice Kanbar Film Institute, a school named after an entrepreneur who donated $5 million to its creation. The Maurice Kanbar Film Institute boasts over 1,000 student filmmakers, students that are constantly collaborating with the musicians in the Scoring for Film & Multimedia program. Having high-level student filmmakers in the school offers opportunities for collaboration that are incredibly valuable to the education of an aspiring film composer.
Students of the school frequently find success in the commercial music industry upon graduation. Various recent alumni accomplishments include winning the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival, scoring theatrical releases involving high-profile celebrities such as Forrest Whitaker, and providing the soundtrack to films featured in the Sundance Film Festival.
1. University of Southern California Thornton School of Music – Los Angeles, CA
Possibly the most well-known film scoring program in the entire world, the “Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television” faculty at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music is uniquely unparalleled. Some of the faculty members include veteran television scorer Jack Smalley, who has written music for the long-running television drama Murder, She Wrote as well as Charlie’s Angels.
Another faculty member, Bruce Broughton, has received 10 Emmy awards for his work in television, as well as Oscar and Grammy nominations. Composer Christopher Young, composer of the “Spider-Man 3” and “Swordfish” soundtracks, is yet another name that demonstrates the excellence and diversity of faculty at this distinguished film program.
The students at the USC program are exceptionally accomplished for their young age. Many, if not all, have already begun their forays into professional film composition. Some current students’ music has been featured on Nickelodeon and ESPN, while another student has written advertisements for sneaker company New Balance. Several have written music for independent productions that have been viewed millions of times online.
On top of the high quality students and faculty, the location of the school could not be better. Located in the undisputed mecca of film and television production in the entire US, Los Angeles is home to many of the world’s finest film & television studios as well as producers and composers of commercial music. Alumni of USC’s film scoring department frequently enjoy paid opportunities in this lucrative entertainment industry.
This program is one-year Master’s certificate in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television, so a prospective undergraduate composer wishing to pursue a film career may be better off checking out the school’s exceptional undergraduate degree in traditional music composition before applying to this exceptionally competitive program.